Updated: Apr 2
"It's not how old you are, it's how you are old", Jules Renard
We measure our age in years since we were born, but many people report a sensation of shock on suddenly realising they are the age they are. This feeling is common. It's the result of a mismatch between our chronological age and what researchers call 'subjective age'. It's a topic of growing research as the population ages and recent data suggest that we feel on average about 20% younger than we actually are from about 40 years of age onwards. That means for a 50 year old, they 'feel' 40 (no wonder the popularity of the headline 50 is the new 40!).
Why Feeling Younger Is A Good Thing
Many have despaired at the thought that people want to feel younger than their age. Recently Chuck D, from hip-hop group Public Enemy said "no one ever heard of a 20 year old wanting to be 10. Come on man!". Others have feared that this feeling is born out of our 'ageist' society which devalues older age and presents youth in a more positive light. 90 million Americans have bought products or received procedures in an effort to hide the physical side of ageing.
However, this obscures what is actually going on when people say they "feel young for their age". There have in fact been many studies showing the benefits of having a subjective age lower than your real age. The MIDUS (Midlife in United States of America) study has carefully unpacked what it all means. They asked about subjective age in a variety of ways. These questions distinguished between 'wanting to be younger' from 'feeling younger' and asked about the age they considered middle age to stop.
What they found was fascinating. First of all adults who feel younger were more likely to report being in excellent or very good health (60%) than those who feel older (30%). They report fewer chronic conditions in the previous year and reported fewer difficulties in physical activities. They have more energy and sleep more and they have fewer risk factors for future disease, such as smoking and overweight. They are also more socially active, more likely to volunteer and contact friends at least once a week. Most interesting of all, people who felt 'younger' were more likely to report making a contribution to others lives and feeling in control with a greater life purpose.
This doesn't feel like a group who are discriminated against by their age. In fact, you can add that they also don't perceive experience age discrimination to the list of benefits
Is Wanting To Be Younger Healthy?
In contrast to feeling younger, wanting to be physically younger was not associated with being healthier or any of the psychological benefits of 'feeling younger'. Wanting to be younger reflected a desire to go back to an earlier time and was less about how they felt now. This distinction is important and points to something about the state of 'feeling younger' as opposed to wishing one 'was actually younger'. Feeling younger is a state of mind and represents a set of behaviours that promote wellbeing and lower risk of health problems. It matches perfectly with the fact that looking after oneself is associated with a lower risk of health problems and that this gives us an energy that we use to feel in control of our lives.
Do You Feel Younger or Older?
In our free Life Age assessment we ask you to tell us whether you feel younger or older than your age and by how much. The act of taking the LifeAge test is not about going back to your younger self, but it's about finding out if you are doing all you can do to maximise your health & happiness so you can feel at your best whatever your age.
If you find there are some areas you could improve, you can then start to focus your attention building new habits that can help you feel happier, healthier and years younger.
If you need some support, we have range of expert habit change services to help.
Finally, we hope you enjoyed this article. PLEASE SHARE with any friends and family who you think would find this useful. We are on a mission to help as many people as we can feel happier, more fulfilled and years younger - so would really appreciate your help to get our message out there.